Florida’s boaters will enjoy greater peace of mind on our state’s waters thanks to legislation filed by Sen. Dana Young and Rep. Shawn Harrison. The related bills, SB 664 and HB 469, would require maritime salvage and towing companies to provide boaters with the option of a written cost estimate before rendering assistance on the water. The legislation aims to put a stop to the predatory practice of those salvage operators who provide relatively minor assistance to boaters and then charge outrageous fees by labeling the service a “salvage claim.”
“The actions of a limited number of these companies amount to a form of modern-day piracy, and it must stop. Unfortunately, there have been some terrible abuses in a system that many boat owners rely on,” Sen. Young said. “Consumers throughout the state have felt misinformed and misled by vague salvage claim fees that crop up when they request assistance on the water. This legislation will give Florida boaters the transparency they expect, and the confidence they deserve, in the maritime salvage and towing industry.”
The reforms incorporated into this legislation will require operators to provide a written estimate if the cost of service could be more than $500. The final bill may not exceed 20 percent of that written estimate, and a boater may waive the written estimate if they choose.
“Although this is an industry filled with many good people who provide a great service, there are some undeniable exceptions. A number of vulnerable Florida boaters have been taken advantage of by operators who stick them with unwarranted and unreasonable bills for services on the water,” said Rep. Harrison. “This legislation ensures that Florida boaters will not be taken advantage of, that payment expectations are clear, and that all maritime salvage and towing companies are held accountable.”
Federal maritime regulations and admiralty laws allow maritime salvage and towing operators the opportunity to sometimes classify assistance as a “salvage claim” and charge excessive fees. These fees can exceed tens of thousands of dollars and are often based on the value of the boat rather than the actual services performed.
“Last year, I received a $30,000 bill from a maritime salvage and towing company for removing excess water from my boat – a job that took less than 10 minutes,” said Eric Hull, a Florida boat owner victimized by this predatory practice. “After getting this shocking bill, I felt incredibly angry and knew something had to be done to address this issue. We need to make sure more people aren’t victimized by this predatory behavior.”
Public support for providing written cost estimates is strong. According to a recent survey of Florida boaters, almost four in five (79%) boat owners believe maritime salvage and towing companies should be required to provide a cost estimate before operators begin assistance.
“Our state’s coasts attract millions of tourists every year, which is why it’s imperative that lawmakers do everything they can to ensure that boaters on our waterways have the same consumer protections that we have come to expect on land,” said Brewster Bevis, Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs for Associated Industries of Florida. “Associated Industries of Florida fully supports this legislation, and we look forward to advocating for these reasonable consumer protections as they make their way through the legislative process.”
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